Most of the devices around you and the tools you use are built on persuasive technology. With the right knowledge, you can easily tell if you’re using the tool or if it is using you.

Persuasive technology works on your predetermined behavior for different situations and can help you with your health and maintain an independent life. On the other side, it can also be dangerous, exploit you, and take advantage of your time and attention.

So, what is persuasive technology, and how can it change your life?

What Is Persuasive Technology?

Persuasive technology typically refers to tech built with the power to change your attitude or behavior and motivate you to do something you wouldn’t deliberately do otherwise. Mostly, it’s used for sales, politics, training, management, public health, and so on.

How Persuasive Technology Works

Technology is evolving with light speed, yet, the way our brain functions is still more or less the same as it has been for centuries. The experts behind this type of technology study our reactions to different situations, determine what people like us do, what triggers influence us, and then create algorithms based on that.

These algorithms tap on our psychological triggers—anger, fear, helplessness, etc.—and make us do what the tool they designed intend us to.

For instance, the human brain follows a duty to keep us safe. The vibration of notifications flashing on our phones acts as stimuli, imitating the danger signs our brain would naturally react to, stimulating us to take action.


According to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, when you receive a notification on your phone, “It sends our brain into overdrive, triggering anxiety and stress, and at the very least, hyper-vigilance, which is meant to protect ourselves from predators, not the phone.”

That’s how the tools based on persuasive technology use our psychological triggers to modify our behavior and persuade us to act in a certain way.

How to Identify if Persuasive Technology Is Affecting You Positively or Negatively

One of the easiest ways to determine if the tools built on persuasive technology are useful to you, not using you, is paying attention to its effects.

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Image Credit: Sinart Creative/Shutterstock

For example, a timer based on the Pomodoro technique is built to make you complete your work faster by making you feel like you’re running out of time. So, you stay focused and work faster.

Such tools sit patiently on your devices for you to come to them when you need them.

On the other hand, there are tools, like social media, gaming, or other apps, that keep pulling you towards them. Most of them are free. The reason? They’re not a product you’re using; you’re the product here.

The more time you spend on these platforms, the more ads you see, and the more the company behind it benefits.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Persuasive Technology

First, let’s talk about the advantages of persuasive technology and how it can bring positive change.

  • When you’re busy, it can help you manage your time. Plus, it can make you do more of what you want to do by giving you a nudge at the right time.
  • It can help you improve your health conditions. For instance, by notifying you of your workout time.
  • Persuasive apps can also prevent you from eating unhealthy food by analyzing your food intake behavior. Others can help you improve your sleep cycle by preventing you from indulging in unhealthy activities, like using your phone or playing games, at bedtime.
  • It can also be used to raise environmental awareness.

Now let’s talk about why persuasive tech is harmful.

  • Platforms built on persuasive technology, like social media, can destroy your focusing power, cause toxic addiction and mental illness like depression and anxiety.
  • It can become the ultimate source of distraction and prevent you from doing what you should be doing, eventually affecting your work performance and the overall quality of how you spend your day, leaving you in guilt.
  • It can exploit your time to benefit large companies, and also your money—for instance, by making you buy virtual stuff in a game.

7 Ways Persuasive Technology Can Change Your Life for Better or Worse

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1. Reduction

Persuasive technology can reduce negative or positive behavior in several domains by interfering or reducing the effort from your side.

For instance, intervening in the middle of office hours to reduce sedimentary behavior and encourage people to take more breaks, change posture regularly, etc.

Other ways to use it can be decreasing the number of steps to make online payments, making it effortless to share your thoughts and opinion with the world, minimizing the effort to find what you want to see next on social platforms, etc.

Just imagine, if you had to find the content of your interest each time after engaging in one, would the social platforms still be this popular?

Related: How to Stop Oversharing on Social Media

2. Tunneling

It’s basically giving control to your device to lead you through the step-by-step process of something. Tunneling can help you perform activities you might not even want to engage with in the first place due to the lack of knowledge or motivation. But persuasive technology can make it easier.

All you have to do is voluntarily start the process, and depending on what it is, make the entries and follow the steps. For instance, installing software on your computer, analyzing your budget and expenses with a tool, etc.

3. Tailoring

To encourage behavior, persuasive technology tailors the action specific to the individual and their needs.

For instance, tips based on gender, vocabulary suggestions based on your audience, purchase recommendations based on your buying history, etc.

4. Suggestions

It can be used to give a message or a suggestion to make you take action accordingly. For instance, online maps tell you to take a different route due to traffic, companies offer a better price for your cart items at the beginning of the month when your salary might have just been credited, and more.

5. Self-Monitoring

In this case, you use persuasive technology to help you manage your behavior to achieve your goals. For instance, wearable sensors to determine your heart rate, calories, and steps count, and apps on your phone displaying your health analysis.

Based on the results, you change your behavior to achieve better outcomes.

6. Surveillance

Persuasive technology can also be used to observe others’ behavior. For instance, the employee time tracking applications, security cameras, etc.

When people are observed, they behave differently, mostly better. And that’s how it can change people’s behavior.

7. Conditioning

In this case, you’re offered a reward by behaving in a certain way. For instance, an instant boost in your happy hormone (dopamine), if you decide to click on the flashed notification.

Another example can be the grammatical correction while you’re writing. You can put your itch to ease by stopping typing and correcting the word you spelled wrong; in other words, by changing your behavior.

Persuasive Technology Made Simple

It’s often said that you can manage things better if you know how they operate or control you. Well, now you know how persuasive technology influences you.

Use this knowledge to make an informed decision the next time an app or a device tries to change your behavior in any way. Determine if it’s useful to you or you’re the one being used here. Then, take action accordingly.

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